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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 23, 2006

Villa hat-trick keeps pressure on Barca

MADRID, April 23 (Reuters) - Barcelona were denied the chance of wrapping up the Spanish title on Sunday when a stunning quick-fire hat-trick from David Villa gave Valencia a 3-0 win at relegation-threatened Athletic Bilbao.

The Valencia striker grabbed the goals in the space of just four second-half minutes to hit one of the quickest hat-tricks ever recorded in the Primera Liga and take his total for the season to 22.

Barca's hopes of bringing a rapid conclusion to the title race were dealt a further blow when their late game at Sevilla looked certain to be called off because of a water-logged pitch after a heavy downpour at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

A cloud burst 45 minutes before kickoff left the pitch completely waterlogged and the referee decided to delay the kickoff in an attempt to give the playing surface time to absorb the water.

Despite the delay, a five-metre stretch of one side of the pitch was left under water and the match was abandoned an hour after the scheduled kickoff time.

Real Madrid snatched a barely deserved 2-1 win over basement side Malaga after defender Sergio Ramos scored a last-minute header at the Bernabeu.

Barca, who have a game in hand and five left to play, lead the standings with 73 points, Valencia follow eight behind on 65, while Real have 63.

Osasuna are a point further back on 62 after an injury-time strike from French midfielder Ludovic Delporte gave the Navarrans at 1-0 win at Real Mallorca.

Real are away at Osasuna next week, while Barca host relegation-threatened Cadiz at the Nou Camp.

Malaga were left staring relegation in the face after their defeat at the Bernabeu and are now eight points adrift of Cadiz at the bottom of the table.

The Andalucians, who drew 1-1 at home to Deportivo Coruna, are just a point behind Alaves, while their are six other teams within five points of the relegation zone.

Villa did not open the scoring against Bilbao until eight minutes from time when he fired past keeper Inaki Lafuente after racing on to a long pass hit from inside the Valencia half.

Two minutes later he squirmed his way past a defender and Lafuente before steering home his second and moments later he completed his hat-trick when he poked in at the far post after some great work by Mario Regueiro and fellow striker Mista.

Real Madrid, who had drawn six of their last seven games, produced yet another shoddy display at the Bernabeu.

Malaga, who had not won in 11 games, took the lead midway through the first half when Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Bovio slammed home at the near post after Antonio Lopez had got behind right back Cicinho.

Italian striker Antonio Cassano spurned two great opportunities to equalise, first skewing a shot over the bar and then miscuing a close-range header before his team were jeered off by their own fans at the break.

Cassano and fellow forward Julio Baptista were taken off on the hour, giving way to Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Soldado.

Zidane is scheduled to give a news conference on Wednesday when he will announce whether or not he will retire after the World Cup.

It was the Frenchman who equalised for Real midway through the second half when he fired a penalty low into the corner after Raul was brought down in the area.

Real grabbed their streaky victory when Ramos threw himself at the ball after Cicinho had clipped the ball across the face of the area following a free kick in the final minute.